The official residence of the President of Latvia is situated in the Riga Castle one of the most significant and oldest monuments of the fourteenth-century history and architecture. The castle has been rebuilt more than once and it acquired its present appearance in the 60s of the nineteenth century.
A wide range of renovation work takes place at Riga Castle, thus temporary residence of the President of Latvia is located at the House of Blackheads. The President of Latvia intends to return to Riga Castle in spring 2016.
The History of the Riga Castle
Building of a castle on the bank of the Daugava was commenced in 1330 when the citizens of Riga, defeated in a war with the Livonian Order (1297-1330), were forced to replace the destroyed castle of the Order with a new one not in the city but close to it in the site of the former hospital of the Holy Ghost. The Rīga Castle became the residence of the masters of the Livonian Order.
In 1481, a war flared up between the Livonian Order and the city of Rīga. In 1484, the people of Rīga sacked the castle once again. All that was left was part of the Tower of the Holy Spirit, which was used as a lighthouse for ships on the river, along with part of the castle’s defensive ramparts. Because of constant quarrels among the Livonian Order, the archbishop and the city, the master of the Order moved his headquarters to Vīlande and then to Cēsis.
Once the Order took the upper hand over the city once again, a treaty was signed (the Valmiera Agreement) which said that during the next six years, the people of Rīga had to rebuild the castle. In the event, the process took until 1515. The master of the Order did not move back to the Rīga Castle until the last master, Gotthard Kettler. Until 1562, when the Livonian Order was dissolved, the castle was home to knights of the Order and their commander.
Once the feudal states of Livonia were dissolved in the latter half of the 16th century, the Rīga Castle was alternately home to officials from Poland (1578-1621), Sweden (1621-1710) and Russia (1710-1917). Institutions related to those officials were also housed there.
In 1922 the Riga Castle became the residence of the President of the Republic of Latvia. From 1940 to 1941 it was used by the Council of Latvian People Commissars, in February 1941 the Pioneer Castle occupied the northern part of the castle.
At present the southern part of the castle houses the Museum of History of Latvia. The Castle became the official residence of the President of Latvia again on 12 June 1995.
Reconstruction of the Castle
The castle was constructed as a three-storey enclosed four-sided building with an inner yard and towers in the corners. The main were the two round towers located diagonally opposite each other the Tower of the Holy Ghost in the northwest and the Lead Tower in the southeast, the two other quadrangular towers had staircases in them. The castle grounds with household buildings stretched to the north of the castle. The ground floor was foreseen for household needs and the castle guard, the second floor the arms floor was without ceiling and partitions and its narrow windows were used as loopholes. On the first floor the living apartments were situated rooms of the Master of the Order, dining hall, bedrooms of the knights, chapel of the castle and the hall for meetings of the chapter of priests.
The building of the Riga Castle was very plain. This can be explained by the military nature of the castle and its forced construction. The only surviving artistic detail are the sculptures of the Virgin Mary and the Master of the Livonian Order Walter von Plettenberg dating from the sixteenth century which can be seen above the former entrance to the castle. The spacious basement which was specially prepared for war and siege occasions has partially survived. Underground passages have been found from time to time in the cellars of the Rīga Castle. Archaeologists believe that these were created as part of the city’s defences in the 17th century, when firearms were introduced. The passages replaced defensive ramparts and towers. These were very complicated structures in terms of engineering. It may be that they linked underground shelters and gunpowder storage facilities. There may have also been secret passages that led to beyond the city’s walls. The passages were partly filled up between 1857 and 1862 when the city’s defensive ramparts were torn down.
During this period fortification walls of the castle were separated from the defence walls of the city by a wide and deep moat which started by the Daugava at the site where the present Church of Our Lady of the Sorrows stands, then turned to the right stretching wider than the cobbled width of the street and behind the castle joined the Daugava again, thus turning the Castle of the Livonian Order into a strong fortress. The canal acquired its present appearance after 1857 when citys ramparts were pulled down.
Since the end of the sixteenth century the castle has undergone several reconstructions. By the order of the Polish government some buildings were reconstructed, some built anew, the old ramparts were turned into bastions. In 1682 the Swedish administration added an arsenal to the eastern block of the castle but in 1783-1788 it was replaced with premises for the administration of the province. The first floor of the castle was divided into two floors, windows were widened, the chapel, the chapter of priests hall and several other rooms were partitioned.
In 1816, when the marquis Philip Paulucci was the governor, several wooden buildings to the north of the castle were torn down and a spacious garden was laid out instead, but an observatory was installed atop the Tower of the Holy Spirit in 1817. In 1818 extensive construction works took place during which the magnificent Imperial Rooms and the White Hall were built.
The last significant reconstruction took place in 1939 under the direction of architect Eizens Laube and the castle was adapted to the needs of the government of the Republic of Latvia. The rooms of the ante-castle were modernised to Laubes design for state representational needs, a spacious and splendid Festival Hall with adjacent rooms was built on the third floor and the Three Star Tower was constructed, the upper part of which was taken away in 1949 due to ideological considerations. It was restored to its original appearance in 1997.